Rommel C BanlaoiThough the world’s oceans cover two-thirds of the earth, efforts to secure themaritime domain continue to ...
182   | Australia and its Maritime Interests: At Home and in the Regionattempted to take stock of the early contacts of th...
Philippines-Australia Maritime Security Cooperation   | 183regional security policies, and to explore the possibility of e...
184   | Australia and its Maritime Interests: At Home and in the RegionSince 11 September 2001, the Philippines-Australia ...
Philippines-Australia Maritime Security Cooperation   | 185The largest maritime security project between the Philippines a...
186   | Australia and its Maritime Interests: At Home and in the Region      Under the SOVFA, Australian forces can now co...
Philippines-Australia Maritime Security Cooperation   | 187and non-traditional security threats. The SOVFA is a logical pr...
188   | Australia and its Maritime Interests: At Home and in the Regionincidence of piracy in the waters of Southeast Asia...
Philippines-Australia Maritime Security Cooperation    | 189the Philippines. There are fears that disputes in the South Ch...
190   | Australia and its Maritime Interests: At Home and in the Regionincrease annual operating costs by US$730 million t...
Philippines-Australia Maritime Security Cooperation    | 191dangerous ploy to justify the presence of Australian troops in...
192   | Australia and its Maritime Interests: At Home and in the RegionThe Philippines and Australia have undertaken secur...
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  1. 1. Rommel C BanlaoiThough the world’s oceans cover two-thirds of the earth, efforts to secure themaritime domain continue to be derisory. The sea has always been an anarchicarea that has been barely policed and protected until now.1 The seas have becomethe medium of various non-traditional security threats like piracy, sea robbery andvarious forms of smuggling that undermine national, regional and global security.2The threat of global terrorism aggravates the growing anxiety of states relying onthe security of the world’s oceans, and maritime security becomes an arduous taskfor all stakeholders. Australia and the Philippines are two sovereign maritime nations whoseprosperity and survival depend heavily on the security of their maritime domains.As they share a common maritime strategic space, so their security interestsare inextricably linked. Thus, they have a converging interest in promoting andenhancing maritime security cooperation, particularly in the aftermath of the 11September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. To strengthen this security cooperation, the Philippines and Australia signedthe Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) on 31 May 2007, which is a significantmilestone in the history of Philippine foreign and security relations, as it becomesits second most important security agreement after that with the United States.Australia, on the other hand, regards the SOVFA as a necessary step to intensifyAustralian security assistance to the Philippines to promote maritime security inSoutheast Asia. Though this is not the first time that Australia has entered intoa status of forces agreement,3 the SOVFA provides Australia with a strong legaljustification to assist the Philippines in increasing its capacity for port security andborder control, both of which aim to prevent terrorist attacks and deter transnationalcriminal acts in the critical sea lanes of Southeast Asia. This paper examines maritime security cooperation between the Philippinesand Australia with a particular emphasis on the SOVFA, taking stock of their strategicachievements and identifying some operational challenges in their relationship.Though official diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Australia wereonly established in July 1946, conventional historiography states that both countriesalready had bilateral interactions as early as the 19th century, when Australianmissionaries came to the Philippine islands to spread the Christian faith.4 There isno exact record to satisfactorily describe these early interactions, and while a book
  2. 2. 182 | Australia and its Maritime Interests: At Home and in the Regionattempted to take stock of the early contacts of the Philippines and Australia, thereis still a need to conduct a more rigorous research to have an authoritative sourceof the early beginning of Philippines-Australia relations.5 Similar to other countries,it was in the maritime domain that the Philippines and Australia discovered eachother. The known early contacts between the two countries is said to have occurredin 1606 when Torres reached Manila through a strait that presently bears hisname.6 Even before the granting of Philippine independence in 1946, the Philippinesand Australia already had some form of maritime security cooperation. DuringWorld War II (WWII), the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) joined with Allied forces inthe fight against the Imperial Japanese Army in the Philippines. More than 4000Australian personnel fought alongside the Philippine armed forces to liberate thecountry from Japanese occupation. It is very sad to note, however, that in Philippinemilitary history, the RAN involvement in the Philippines during WWII has not beengiven due scholarly attention. When the Philippines received its political independence from the UnitedStates, Australia immediately opened a consular office in Manila, and assisted theeconomic reconstruction of the Philippines through the Colombo Plan (establishedin 1951). Also in 1951 the Philippines opened its Defence Attaché Office in Australia.Since then, the Philippines and Australia have conducted exchange visits by theirsecurity officials to discuss common issues and concerns during the Cold War. The Philippines and Australia promoted security cooperation during the Cold Waras members of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), initially composedof the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, the Philippines NewZealand, Pakistan, and Thailand, and focused on halting communist expansion inSoutheast Asia. However, Philippines-Australia security cooperation at the height ofthe Cold War was largely a function of their military alliance with the United States,rather than closer bilateral security relations.7 With the disbanding of SEATO in1977, Philippine-Australia defence relations became moribund as bilateral relationswere increasingly shaped by diplomatic and economic imperatives.8 The declaration of martial law in 1972 by Philippine president FerdinandMarcos was a turning point in Philippines-Australian bilateral security relations.During this period, the Philippine Government opened its doors to other securitypartners in the Asia-Pacific region to enhance its strategic leverage with the UnitedStates, which was averse to Marcos’ authoritarian regime. It was in the early phaseof martial law when the Philippines began serious talks with Australia in the area ofsecurity, culminating in the Philippines entering into a defence cooperation programwith Australia in 1973. Coincidentally, it was also during this difficult period whenAustralia looked for strategic options beyond the US alliance, particularly after thefall of South Vietnam in 1975, which resulted in the United States withdrawal oftheir land forces from Southeast Asia. This new security environment providedthe Philippines and Australia with a proper strategic backdrop to re-examine their
  3. 3. Philippines-Australia Maritime Security Cooperation | 183regional security policies, and to explore the possibility of expanding their bilateralsecurity relations beyond their military alliance with the United States. The termination of the Philippine-American Military Bases Agreement 1991accelerated the strengthening of the Philippines-Australia security relations, as thewithdrawal of American troops in the Philippines demonstrated the ‘once-strong’and ‘once-special’ Philippine-American relationship was past its best.9 Since theAmerican bases had long been regarded as the ‘linchpin of a partnership built arounda network of bilateral and multilateral arrangements between the Philippines andthe United States’, the security relationship between the two countries was said tohave been left on uncertain ground.10 After 1991, the Philippine defence establishment deliberately sought theassistance of its Australian counterpart, which at that time was also looking fora reliable security partner in Southeast Asia after the end of the Cold War. Bothcountries conducted a series of intense bilateral security dialogues from 1992 to 1994,successfully resulting in the signing of the Philippines-Australia Defence CooperationAgreement in 1995, which covered mutual access to defence facilities, joint trainingand military exercises, access to training facilities and courses, exchange ofinformation, and cooperation in defence science and technology, and defenceindustry. Under this agreement, the Philippines and Australia have undertaken anumber of defence-related activities, including Philippine participation in TrainingActivity LUMBAS (commenced in 2002), the first Philippines-Australia maritimesurveillance Exercise (MARSURVEX), and the Australian-hosted multilateral FleetConcentration Period Exercise KAKADU. There have been regular visits by defenceand military officials, contributing to confidence building, and regular intelligenceexchanges on various security issues of mutual interest. Between 1991 and 2001, Australia was the major destination for Filipino militarystudents undergoing education and training abroad, as the United States restrictedthe entry of Filipino military students to American military schools. The Philippinesand Australia also worked together in Coalition operations in East Timor in 1999.Though 11 September 2001 resulted in the reinvigoration of Philippine-Americansecurity relations and resumed US military commitments to the Philippines, thePhilippines and Australia sustained their security cooperation while supporting theUnited States in its global war against terrorism. In March 2003, the Philippines and Australia signed an agreement to cooperateon combating terrorism in order to ‘prevent, suppress and eliminate internationalterrorism in all its forms’. In July 2003, they signed an agreement on combatingtransnational crime, including maritime piracy, smuggling and their nexus withterrorism. The war on terrorism in Southeast Asia and maritime security becamethe rallying areas of Philippines-Australia security relations, which were furthercemented by the signing of the SOVFA.
  4. 4. 184 | Australia and its Maritime Interests: At Home and in the RegionSince 11 September 2001, the Philippines-Australia maritime security relationshiphas grown significantly. Australian security is predominantly maritime in nature.Australia’s counter-terrorism assistance of A$10 million over the period 2003-08has focused on strengthening the capability of the Philippine’s military to bolstermaritime border control and port security against terrorism. A Maritime SecuritySeminar was held in June 2005 to identify issues and concerns in their maritimesecurity cooperation, resulting in the RAN conducting a maritime needs analysisfor the Philippines during late 2005, giving Australia a clearer understanding of thetype of maritime security assistance that should be provided to the Philippines. Philippines-Australia maritime security cooperation post-11 September 2001is focused on three major projects: the Philippines Port Security Capacity BuildingProject; the Army Watercraft Project; and the Coastwatch South Project.One of the flagship Australian activities is the Philippines Port Security CapacityBuilding Project, launched in 2004 with a total funding of A$1.3 million and aimingto strengthen port security to reduce the risks of maritime terrorism. The projectalso assisted the Philippines to meet the July 2004 deadline for compliance withthe International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code introduced by theInternational Maritime Organization (IMO). The project was due to terminate in2005, but was extended and should now conclude in mid-2008. Since 2004, theproject has assisted some 100 Philippines ports with more than 2000 port securitypersonnel to develop and implement port security plans.11The Army Watercraft Project aims to assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines todevelop a small watercraft capability to better patrol the waters of Mindanao, whichare used as a sanctuary by international terrorist groups. Various intelligencereports have shown that terrorists are using these waters as a means of transit,while this area is also a haven for local and international pirates, smugglers andsea robbers. An Australian Army team visited the Philippines in August-September 2005,and confirmed that Armed Forces of the Philippines counter-terrorist operations inthe south were constrained by a lack of suitable means to deploy troops into marshareas.12 Australia committed to provide the Philippines with between 18-30 boats,along with training in small boat handling, surveillance and reconnaissance andmaintenance of the vessels.13
  5. 5. Philippines-Australia Maritime Security Cooperation | 185The largest maritime security project between the Philippines and Australia isthe Coastwatch South Project, which aims to enhance the capability of Philippinemaritime security forces to monitor the transit of people in the Celebes, Suluand Sulawesi seas. Australia is helping the Philippines to develop its maritimesurveillance and interdiction capabilities by centralising surveillance and responsemechanisms to secure maritime borders in Mindanao. The project covers variouscorridors comprising Zamboanga Peninsula, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi; DavaoGulf and General Santos seaward going to the North Sulawesi Island in Indonesia;and the Southern part of Palawan and Balabac Island seaward going to Banggi Islandand Sabah.14Because of its commitment to enhancing the maritime security capability of thePhilippines, Australia participated in Exercise BALIKATAN 2006 as an observer.Exercise BALIKATAN is the largest joint military exercise between the Philippinesand the United States. The signing of SOVFA in 2007 was a culmination of the two countries’commitment to advancing their common maritime security interests. PresidentArroyo described Australia as one of the Philipines most important regional securitypartners. Cultural familiarity, shared liberal democratic values, geographic proximityand a common military alignment with the United States create a relationship ofamity between the two countries. The SOVFA seeks to further operationalise theirexisting defence cooperation activities by providing more opportunities for securitycoordination particularly in joint/combined naval training/exercises. Since 11 September 2001, Philippines-Australia security cooperation isinherently maritime in nature. The SOVFA affirms that their maritime securityinterests are so interlinked that maritime security problems cannot be reasonablyanalysed or resolved separately. The Australian Minister for Defence, Brendan Nelson,underscored this when he stated the agreement provides a more comprehensive legalframework to support Australian Defence Force and Philippines military personnelengaged in defence cooperation activities.15 Based on a ‘National Interests Analysis’undertaken by the Australian Parliament: This treaty is of great significance to Australia, as it would allow our defence cooperation with the Philippines to deepen, particularly in the area of combined exercises. The Australia-Philippines Defence Cooperation relationship has been growing in the last few years, with the focus remaining on counter-terrorism, maritime security, and assistance to the Philippines Defence Reform program. The main components of our counter-terrorism cooperation include an annual bilateral counter-terrorism training activity called Dawn Caracha, the Army Watercraft Project, and maritime security assistance.16
  6. 6. 186 | Australia and its Maritime Interests: At Home and in the Region Under the SOVFA, Australian forces can now conduct combined naval militaryexercises with their Philippine counterparts to enhance interoperability in managingcommon threats. Though the Philippines and Australia have previously conductednaval military activities and exercises, the SOVFA regularises their bilateral navalexercises, while enhancing other bilateral activities to assist in managing commonmaritime security concerns. Australia has a strong interest in maritime security cooperation with thePhilippines because of its strategic interest in the security of Southeast Asianshipping lanes.17 As almost 40 per cent of Australian seaborne trade passes throughthe pirate-prone waters of Indonesia and the southern Philippines, Australia has astrategic interest in promoting regional security by building the maritime capacitiesof littoral states. Australia has assisted Philippine maritime forces to build andenhance their capability to secure their waters, protect freedom of navigation andcounter threats to maritime security, particularly those emanating from internationalterrorist groups. The Philippines Government strongly welcomes Australian assistance toimprove its ill-equipped maritime forces. Though the Philippines is the world’ssecond largest archipelago, it has one of the weakest maritime forces in Asia. TheUnited States military withdrawal in 1991 aggravated the already poor state ofPhilippine maritime forces. A force modernisation program began in 1995, but the1997 Asian financial crisis prevented its implementation, prompting a naval officerto lament that the Philippine Navy ‘lags both in quality and quantity among theother navies in the region’.18 Philippine national security adviser Norberto Gonzalesalso admitted that the country’s maritime forces had very limited capability toprotect its waters when he said: We cannot watch and check every boat that travels between Indonesia and Mindanao. Over 26,000 trips are made by these boats and it is impossible to monitor each of them given the government’s meagre resources.19 The main strategic intention of the Philippines Government in signing theSOVFA was to get more military assistance from a country that it regards as the mostimportant and reliable strategic partner after the United States. Thus, immediatelyafter the SOVFA signing, the Australian Government announced the donation of 28airboats to the Philippine military worth US$4 million to enhance its capability tofight terrorism and promote its maritime security.As maritime nations, the Philippines and Australia share many strategic perspectiveson maritime security issues. Their concerns converge around the following strategicissues, which facilitate their cooperation and enhance their engagement: alliancewith the United States; the challenge of a growing China; possible maritime terroristthreats in Southeast Asia; disputes in the South China Sea; the China-Taiwan issue;
  7. 7. Philippines-Australia Maritime Security Cooperation | 187and non-traditional security threats. The SOVFA is a logical product of their innateinterests to promote maritime security.One security convergence between the Philippines and Australia is their strongsecurity alliance with the United States, and both welcome a continued US strategiccommitment to the Asia-Pacific region. For the Philippines, its security relationship with the United States is thelinchpin of its defence and security policies.20 Though the Philippines views itscooperation with Southeast Asian neighbours as the cornerstone of its regionalpolicy,21 its US alliance continues to shape the direction of its foreign and securitypolicies, particularly in the global campaign against terrorism. Thus, when theUnited States suggested the creation of a Regional Maritime Security Initiative, thePhilippines Government support it. However, pressure from Malaysia and Indonesiaprevented its creation. Australia regards the United States as the keystone of its defence policy andis therefore essential for advancing its national interests and is fundamental toits security and prosperity.22 In A Defence Update 2003, Australia stated ‘Australiaand the United States continue to share many values and interests, and we jointlybenefit from, and contribute towards, global stability and prosperity’.23The Philippines and Australia also share common concerns on the challenges posedby the rapid rise of China, which is emerging as an Asian maritime power. Althoughboth countries have very good diplomatic and trade relations with China, theyare wary of China’s burgeoning economic power because of its spill over effectson China’s expanding military power.24 In 2007, China’s defence budget reachedUS$44.94 billion, representing an increase of 17.8 per cent compared to the previousyear, which was a doubling of its 2000 defence budget.25 If this growth in defenceexpenditure continues, China’s defence spending could reach US$185 billion in2025.26 According to A Defence Update 2007, while China’s economic growth hasbenefited the world, its rapid military expansion could cause instability in the Asia-Pacific region.27 The Philippines Government shares this perspective.28The Philippines and Australia have common strategic interests in combatingmaritime terrorism in Southeast Asia. Although there have been few maritimeterrorist attacks, there is an increasing concern that shipping and ports may face aterrorist attack.29 Because of the terrorist threat posed by Jemaah Islamiyah (withits ambitious desire to establish a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia) and the high
  8. 8. 188 | Australia and its Maritime Interests: At Home and in the Regionincidence of piracy in the waters of Southeast Asia, maritime terrorism has becomea serious challenge to regional maritime security.30 The threat of maritime terrorism caused panic in Southeast Asia when AegisDefense Services reported that the robbery of the Indonesian chemical tanker DewiMadrim off the coast of Sumatra on 26 March 2003 appeared to be the handiworkof terrorists learning how to drive a ship in preparation for a future attacks at sea.31What interested analysts about the incident was the observation that the DewiMadrim case failed to conform to the established patterns or customary practicesof piracy attacks. The perpetrators were fully armed with automatic weapons thatattacked the ship through the bridge rather than the safe room and instead ofransacking the crew’s goods, they steered a laden tanker for almost one hour.32 Another important case that raised apprehensions was the bombing ofSuperferry 14 on 27 February 2004 after it left Manila Bay. The incident resulted inthe death of 116 passengers and the wounding of around 300 others. Because of thedamage caused by the explosion, it was described as the most violent man-madedisaster in Philippine waters since 2001 and the worst terrorist attack in Asia sincethe 2002 Bali bombing. Though the Abu Sayyaf Group claimed responsibility for theexplosion, it was actually carried out by Redento Cain Dellosa, a Muslim convertassociated with the Rajah Solaiman Islamic Movement.33 The Philippines and Australia share common anxieties on the threat posed bymaritime terrorism in Southeast Asia, considering their heavy reliance on seabornetrade. Almost all (99.9 per cent) of Australian trade by weight is transported bysea. As an archipelago of 1707 islands with one of the world’s longest coastlines,the Philippines also relies heavily on maritime trade. There are also an estimated375,000 fishing vessels and around 15,000 other vessels and oil tankers operatingin Philippine waters. The Philippines is also the first choice for seafarers amonginternational shipping lines. Thus, securing the waters of Southeast Asia againstpossible terrorist attack is the common task of the Philippines and Australia. A particular concern of both countries is that Jemaah Islamiyah is known to usetwo maritime routes to move from northern Indonesia to the southern Philippines.The first route is from Manago to Davao and the second is from the northernmostpart of Kalimantan to Davao using Sandakan of Malaysia as a stop over. It is thereforeimportant for Australia to help the Philippines to enhance its maritime securitycapability to better protect its southern borders.The South China Sea or what some Filipinos call the ‘Western Philippine Seas’34lies in the northern extent of the indo-west pacific seas. The disputed islands arecollectively known as the Spratlys; comprise no less than 190 islets, reefs androcks with an approximate area of 390,000 km2, and are surrounded by rich fishinggrounds and potentially gas and oil deposits. The Spratly Islands are claimed in theirentirety by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, while portions are claimed by Malaysia and
  9. 9. Philippines-Australia Maritime Security Cooperation | 189the Philippines. There are fears that disputes in the South China Sea, if not properlymanaged, may impact on the freedom of navigation of shipping in the area, whichmay impact on regional economies and, in turn, trigger external power rivalry inthe Asia-Pacific region. External powers have high stakes in the South China Sea astheir major trade routes pass through the area.35 It has been a long-standing position of the Philippines and Australia to developa regional code of conduct for the South China Sea to peacefully manage territorialdisputes. As a claimant state, the Philippines considers the South China Sea as anintegral aspect of its territorial defence. Australia, though not a claimant state, is amajor stakeholder as it relies on continued freedom of navigation in the area. Anembedded interest of Australia in strengthening its maritime security cooperationwith the Philippines is to provide opportunities to discuss the South China Sea andmake the Australian Defence Force more effective in its regional engagement. TheSOVFA enables the Philippines and Australia to conduct maritime exercises in thePhilippine-controlled portions of the South China Sea.The Philippines and Australia uphold a one-China policy, which recognises Taiwanas a province of China. Mindful of the complexities of the issue, both the Philippinesand Australia want the status quo to prevail and urge both China and Taiwan toavoid provocative or unilateral actions that might escalate tensions in the straits, asa security crisis in the Taiwan Strait could spill over to the rest of the Asia-Pacificregion. Thus, a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue is sought by all nationsdepending on freedom of navigation along the sea routes connected with the strait.At the ASEAN Regional Forum in 2007, Australia categorically stated that ‘pending apeaceful resolution of differences, the status quo shall be maintained and both sidesencouraged to avoid provocative or unilateral steps that might be misunderstoodor lead to increased tensions.’36 Intelligence analysis, strategic scanning and netassessment in the Philippines shares a common view that the status quo shouldprevail in the cross strait in the short and medium terms.37Like other states in the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines and Australia are alsoconcerned with non-traditional security threats, such as piracy and armed robberyagainst ships, people smuggling and human trafficking, small arms traffickingand drugs trafficking. James Warren of the Asia Research Institute at the NationalUniversity of Singapore claims that piracy in Southeast Asia costs the world economyUS$25 billion a year.38 Alan Chan, a vocal anti-piracy advocate and an owner ofPetroships in Singapore, states that piracy is costing the region around US$500million a year.39 The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Developmentsays that new maritime security measures to counter the threat of attacks willrequire an initial investment by ship operators of at least US$1.3 billion, and will
  10. 10. 190 | Australia and its Maritime Interests: At Home and in the Regionincrease annual operating costs by US$730 million thereafter.40 The cost of piracyin Southeast Asia is projected to increase in the future. The July 2003 Philippines-Australia agreement to combat transnational crimes and the SOVFA are intendedto enhance cooperation on non-traditional security threats, particularly piracy andmaritime terrorism.While there have been strategic achievements in Philippines-Australia maritimesecurity cooperation, there are some operational challenges that both nations haveto surmount to the implement the SOVFA: the non-ratification of the SOVFA bythe Philippine Senate; Philippines apprehension over the presence of Australiantroops conducting military exercises in Philippine territories; jurisdictional issues;resistance to the agreement by opposition groups who are concerned that Australiamay have an ulterior motive; and the issue of interoperability given the widedisparity in capabilities between the countries. The Australian Parliament’s Treaties Committee has recommended thatAustralia ratify the SOVFA, but it still needs to be ratified by the Philippine Senateso that it can be operationally implemented. The Philippine Senate opted not to actdecisively on the SOVFA so as to not to inflame the controversy brought about bya rape case against American soldier who participated in a Philippines-Americanjoint military exercise. Furthermore, the Philippine Senate thought that discussingthe SOVFA amidst this crisis in the implementation of Philippine-American VisitingForces Agreement was unpopular. Thus, the Philippine Senate is bidding its time indeliberating the SOVFA. After the signing of SOVFA, the two navies held a small joint maritime trainingin October 2007 dubbed ‘PN-RAN Exercise LUMBAS 2007’. Held in the Island ofCebu, it was conceptualised as the first Staff Exercise and Command Post Exercisebetween the two countries’ naval forces. It aimed to enhance interoperability andoperational readiness of the naval forces particularly in humanitarian assistanceand disaster relief operations, and maritime security operations from the tri-borderareas of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.41 The first LUMBAS activity washeld in 2002 and since then has been held annually. There is a strong apprehension in the Philippines about the presence ofAustralian troops conducting military exercises in Philippine territory. Cause-oriented organisations fear the eventual establishment of an Australian military basein the Philippines, which is unconstitutional. Moreover, the Philippine Constitutionprohibits foreign troops from engaging in combat operations in the country. But thePhilippine military has stressed that there will be no establishment of a permanentAustralian base in the Philippines, and the SOFVA only provides temporarystructures for troop billeting, classroom instruction, support and messing to be usedPhilippines and Australian forces during the naval exercises. It is also feared thatthe SOVFA is just a cover to allow Australian troops to engage in combat operationsin the Philippines. Opposition leaders in the Philippines regarded the SOVFA as a
  11. 11. Philippines-Australia Maritime Security Cooperation | 191dangerous ploy to justify the presence of Australian troops in the Philippines.42 InOctober 2005, the The Australian newspaper cited an unnamed former AustralianSecurity Intelligence Service officer, who claimed that Australian Special Forceshave been involved in covert operations in Mindanao for almost a year. But theAustralian and Philippine governments denied the reports. The Office of the DeputyChief of Staff for Operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines even assuredthat under the SOVFA, military operations would be done solely by Philippinetroops. Australia’s support will be limited to capability and capacity developmentand Australian troops will not be directly involved in the conduct of any militarycombat operation. There is the jurisdictional issue of how to manage possible violations ofPhilippines law by Australian troops. This is a very sensitive issue in the Philippinesconsidering its experiences with American troops. But the Philippines Departmentof Justice explains that under the SOVFA, detention and litigation of Australiantroops accused of violating Philippine law shall be within the jurisdiction of thePhilippines judicial system. There is an allegation that the ulterior motive of Australia in deepeningmaritime security cooperation with the Philippines through the SOVFA is not toprotect the waters of Mindanao from terrorist incursion but to advance Australianeconomic interests in the mining industry.43 Studies show that the Philippines isone of the most mineralised countries in the world, ranking third in gold, fourth incopper, fifth in nickel and sixth in chromite. Its untapped mineral resources have anestimated value of at least US$840 billion. Australia has invested in several miningprojects in the Philippines through the Lafayette, Indophil, Climax-Arimco, QNI/BHPBilliton Mineral, Red 5 and other companies.44 According to the Peoples Network forthe Environment (PNE), a Philippine environmental organisation, ‘more Australianmining firms are now flocking south to Mindanao following strong opposition fromthe local communities to mining projects in Northern Philippines and Luzon’.45Clemente Bautista, Kalikasan PNE national coordinator said ‘Australian troopsand giant mining companies are not welcome in the Philippines.’46 There is also asinister analysis that Australia has trade, mining, and other economic interests in thePhilippines, making it a favourable site for deployment and operations of Australiantroops.47 But the Philippines Government finds all these views preposterous. Finally, Philippines-Australia maritime security cooperation is a classicexample of cooperation between ‘the haves and the haves not’, between big andsmall, and between rich and poor powers. Thus, there is a great difficulty inachieving interoperability in an ‘unequal’ situation. In fact, interoperability betweenthe countries’ naval forces is very limited.
  12. 12. 192 | Australia and its Maritime Interests: At Home and in the RegionThe Philippines and Australia have undertaken security cooperation over manyyears and the signing of SOVFA in May 2007 is a logical result of this long-standingcooperation. After 11 September 2001, their security cooperation has focused largelyon maritime security, with Australia deeply involved in increasing the capacityof the Philippine maritime forces to secure its maritime borders against variousthreats, particularly those emanating from international terrorist groups operatingin Southeast Asian waters. Because of its commitment to enhance the maritime security capability of thePhilippines, Australia has become the second most important strategic partner ofthe Philippines, next to the United States. But there are operational challenges thatboth countries have to surmount if they want to sustain and enhance their maritimesecurity cooperation in the years to come.